Is Tent Camping Cheaper Than Hotels?

When we think about taking a road trip somewhere, and we have to stay overnight or longer, we start to think about how much things will cost and the actual budget for your trip. If you are wanting to go to the lake, or river for a few days, people often ask themselves if it would be cheaper to just stay in a hotel, or if they should pack up the tents and sleeping bag and stay at a campsite. Depending on budget, time, how far you have to drive and a few other questions, you can narrow down exactly what will fit your budget and timeline so that you can maximize your trip for fun.

Is tent camping cheaper than hotels? Typically, a hotel will cost you more than tent camping will because hotels tend to offer more amenities than a campground will. Hotels offer showers, bathrooms, beds and other nice to have amenities like breakfast, and free wifi which makes it more popular for anyone wanting to stay somewhere for a few days.

Most hotels will run about $100 dollars or more a night, and you do not have to pack nearly as much gear into your car to go have a good time. Tent campsites on average start at $25 to $45 dollars a night, but you have to bring all of your own supplies, and some campgrounds don’t offer showers. In order to help you make a decision on which is best for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where are we going, and what are we doing
  • Do we NEED a shower
  • Do we have the room for all the gear
  • How long of a trip is it
  • Can we carry our own food, or is there a store near by
  • What is our budget
  • Is there a hotel/motel near by

Answer those simple questions and you will have narrowed it down to what you end up doing.

State Parks vs Private Campgrounds

State parks tend to cost a little less for a tent site than a private campground will because private parks can charge whatever they want, and tend to have more amenities like swimming pools, showers, things like volley ball, table tennis and more.

State parks will usually have a bathroom and possibly showers (most do not), and maybe a grassy picnic area where you can play and do sports. One thing about state parks is that there is normally are set in a place of pure beauty and that is why people go to them.

The good part about visiting a state park is that there are usually a few hotels/motels around in case you dont really want to camp. Keep in mind that it also really depends on where you are going and what you are wanting to do, as some places might not offer a hotel, or tent camping at all. You may have to search out the nearest KOA if you want to tent camp which could be a lengthy drive to the attraction or place you are wanting to visit.

Motels vs Hotels

On average, when you are looking to stay in a place with a bed and a roof instead of sleeping out under the open stars, you have the choice of staying in a motel or hotel instead of a tent. Motels will normally run you less money than a hotel, and there is good reason for that; You get less amenities in a motel than a hotel.

Motels are usually not very luxurious and are meant for a couple things, sleep and a shower. You will most likely get a TV in a motel as well, but its not going to be as nice as a hotel. Hotels will generally have wifi, and flat screen tv’s, and continental breakfast in the morning. You might also get things like extra towels and robes, as well as the every loving mini bar, and of course ROOM SERVICE (depending on the hotel).

hotel room

If you look around though, you can usually find a coupon or a promo code for hotels which can take up to 25% or more off you stay, so you can really get good deals, and yes, they are out there. If you think you can only afford a motel, do a little research and look for promos they might having. I always call the hotel to see if there is anything going on, and I always check multiple booking sites before I make a reservation. Don’t always trust the first thing you find, it takes a little digging to find a deal, so put some time and effort into it.

Do You Have The Room For Gear

This big question will almost always be the deciding factor in how your trip will be planned because if you don’t have the room for sleeping bags, tent(s), and at least an ice chest, you are sunk already. If you have a truck or SUV, you will probably have no problem loading it up for tent camping, but if you have a big family like me, you might not have the room in an SUV, and I have a 7 seater.

If you do have the room, then you are fine to check out tent campsites or hotels. If you are on a budget and do not have the room for all the gear, but cant quite afford the cost of staying in a hotel for days at a time, you might be able to find a cheap roof rack for your car that can hold sleeping bags and a tent, and will be perfect for your trip. Most roof racks are removable, so they are easy to put on and take off, and can be stored easily without taking up a ton of space.

Camp Setup And Road Trips

When you are planning a road trip, especially a long one, the last thing you will want to do after a long day of driving is setup a campsite. Setting up a tent, sleeping bags, and camp kitchen can take over an hour, especially if you are a novice to camping, so I like to give myself at least a couple of hours to find the site, park, unpack and setup.

If you still plan on tent camping, plan your driving times accordingly so you aren’t stuck at midnight setting up a tent that you might sleep in for 6 hours if you have a timeline of driving you need to keep. If you know its going to take two days of driving to get to your spot, pick an overnight campsite that is easily reachable with plenty of time for setup and relaxation time. The best thing about a hotel is all you have to do is park, check in, and sleep which is really nice when you have a lot of driving to do.

Time Of Year Is A Huge Factor

Deciding whether or not to tent camp or stay in a hotel can depend heavily on what time of you are traveling and where you live. If you plan taking a road trip over winter break of school, you might not want to stay in a campsite with the chance of rain or snow. Some campsites shutdown over the winter months, but not all do and it can seem fun to camp in the winter, but it can be extremely cold if you do not have the right gear. If you do plan to tent camp in the winter months, I suggest that only an experienced camper do this.

camp ground

You would need to have a tent that can handle wind, rain and cold, as well as a sleeping bag that can handle temperatures that can dip into the 20’s or less. Where I live in Northern California, camping in the winter is still open, but not for the faint of heart because it can get well below freezing, and the snow can hit at under 2500 feet. I suggest tent camping in the Spring, Summer and Fall only, unless you are not new to the camping scene.

What About Pets

If you have a pet, and its not a support animal, be prepared to ask any hotel or motel you call if they are pet friendly. Do not just expect to roll into a hotel and let them know you have an animal because you might get turned away. If you do find a hotel that does not welcome pets, and try to sneak it into a hotel room and they find out, you may be charged extra money for damages, and that can wreck your vacation budget.

The same can be true at campsites, and some will let you have animals, but usually you are okay to bring them. Campsites are normally more open to having animals as long as they are on a leash or in a pen. Always call ahead to find out if where you are staying is pet friendly, and make sure your pet is going to be friendly to other animals as well. Another idea is to board your animal while you are away, but this can get sorta pricey.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, if you have the option to camp or go to a hotel, I would choose camping because I love the smell of coffee in the morning, and who doesn’t love a good campfire? It really comes down to personal preference, what type of trip you are taking and your budget. Do your homework and research before you make concrete plans, and you will have a much better time on your trip and have a lot less unforeseen issues you will have to deal with along the way.

Related Topics

Is Renting An RV Cheaper Than Staying In Hotels

In general, renting an RV is slightly less expensive than staying in a nice hotel. RV’s generally run $95 to $250 dollars a day on average depending on what year and make RV you want to rent. A 24ft motorhome is going to be a lot cheaper than a 32 foot motorhome will be, so it also depends on how big your family is and how much space you need. Hotels can run on average $130 dollars to $300 dollars a night depending on how nice the hotel is and it’s amenities. Keep in mind if you have a big family, you might have to rent two hotel rooms which will double your room rate.

Can You Put A Portable AC In A Tent

Can you put a portable ac in a tent? Yes, absolutely you can have a portable ac in a tent, but you have to make sure you either bring a generator, or have your campsite have full hookups. Be careful, campsites with full hookups are generally only for RV’s and Trailers and will normally cost more, and almost all campsites will have a quite time starting around 10pm where you cannot run generators, so do not expect to have air conditioning all night. Portable AC units are perfect for cooling down your tent after being away from it for long periods of time, but don’t make sense to run all day.

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